Interview: Luisa Omielan – Am I Right Ladies?!
'They called it the Luisa Burger and I knew I’d made it'
This article is from 2015.
Luisa Omielan is lamenting her rapidly fading tan. She’s not long back from Thailand, a holiday she’d promised herself at the end of a two-and-a-half month comedy tour around Australia. She flew her sister and mum out as her entourage and posted photos of them all on Instagram: posing next to the Thai Ronald McDonald, pretend-pouting in infinity pools, failing at stand-up paddle boarding.
‘Aw mate, you should have seen it two weeks ago! I was really brown. I mean I looked Indian; I loved it! I was like, proper mixed race, bae. Now I’m just a regular pasty white girl again, wearing head to toe white clothes for nothing.’ A friend suggested she top it up with a fake tan. ‘Nah, I don’t want to fake it; it’s not as cool if it’s not natural, innit? You can always spot the fake ones anyway.’
Which pretty much sums up the Omielan guide to realness. Was she in character when she delivered her smash-hit breakthrough show back in 2012, What Would Beyoncé Do?! In that one, she hits rock bottom after a grim break-up and a suicide attempt by her brother, comforting herself with sandwiches and looking to Beyoncé as her imaginary spirit guide? Did she exaggerate all that stuff about wanting to be as big a star in the comedy world as Bey is in the pop world? No sir. All real. All Omielan.
‘It’s 110% real. It’s truthful, I’m not in character,’ explains the 32-year-old Londoner, ordering herself a latte in a café near Covent Garden, then promptly spilling a decent amount of it down someone by mistake. It’s the kind of detail that could easily pop up on her Twitter later, another example of her ‘#nailinglife’.
So real was her debut solo show, in fact, crowds and critics alike helped it become a huge sleeper hit of the 2012 Fringe. Her free performance, upstairs in the Meadows Bar (‘next to a toilet’), led to five-star reviews, a world tour, a recent Australian Barry Award nomination, and a spin-off book deal, signed in March this year. The bar staff even named a burger after her the following year. ‘It was a fried egg on a veggie burger, with cheesy wedges on the side. They called it the Luisa Burger and I knew I’d made it,’ she sniffs casually, with some of her trademark mock rock-solid confidence.
While a lot of her material deals very charmingly with being a loser, she seems to be ‘smashing it’ fairly hard right now. There’s a video of her on Facebook filmed a few weeks ago during her first Australian tour of WWBD?!, talking about her ‘thigh gap’, or rather, her defiantly proud lack of one, which has had nearly 10 million views, and rising.
Her worries about not translating well with Australian crowds turned out to be unnecessary. ‘You worry before you go in front of any new crowd. “Will they even get any of it?” Sometimes they laugh at totally different bits from what you’re expecting. It’s weird, but good weird. I’d come off stage and think they hated it. Then someone would come up after to say “thanks”.’ She breaks into a cartoon Aussie accent, gushing with praise. ‘You’re soy great, we royly, royly laiked you!’ She’s laughing now. ‘I’d be all like, “er, well, why didn’t you fucking show it then?” Come on, guys, meet me fucking half way.’
Just as she’s honest about her tragic moments, her work insecurities, her flashes of euphoria, and her deep love of Mariah Carey, she’s also fairly heart-on-sleeve when she’s unhappy too. Like the time she played Edinburgh’s Free Fringe again last year, and called the space ‘the shittest room on the Fringe’. Her diva huffs on stage didn’t go unnoticed and a few walk-outs from the crowd got her even more flustered.
‘You know, it’s just frustrating when something’s off with the sound, or the tech side of things. I want to bring people there and help them lose their minds, let them really enjoy their night. I want my show to be an epic party with jokes in. I pour my heart and soul into these shows. Then your mic doesn’t work and no one can hear you, and the crowd loses me, and I can’t feed off their energy anymore. That kind of thing just makes me so disappointed.’
Omielan confesses that after performing WWBD?! for years, and being interviewed about it plenty over that time, she’s ready to unleash a different set. Am I Right Ladies?! – the show which Omielan performed on the Free Fringe last year – returns to Edinburgh for a starry three-night run in Assembly George Square Theatre. ‘Of course, it can get annoying going over the same set but if I ever get too fed up of it, I check myself. That show has given me everything I ever wanted.’
For her brief stint at the Festival, Omielan says crowds should expect ‘the same show as last year, only bigger and better’. The punchline to one of her gags – where she strips down to Spanx and bra – may have already been ruined by various YouTube spoilers, but Omielan’s not too worried. ‘For anyone who’s seen it before, I hope it’s just a bit like hearing a line in a favourite movie. You know it’s coming, but when she says, “I carried a watermelon” for the millionth time, it’s still good to hear it.’
So, after her UK tour and Edinburgh Fringe run, what’s next for Omielan and her ongoing drive for global domination? ‘I’d like to do a world tour next, and grow my international audience,’ she says, barely pausing to inhale before rattling off the rest of the game plan. ‘A DVD too, and obviously the book. More sell-out shows. Actually, I’d quite like it if every woman had the chance to see my show. I’d like them all to come along, and all leave feeling really good about themselves.’
Of all the dates on her tour, returning to Edinburgh is something she’s especially looking forward to. ‘Edinburgh is a special place for me; I have so much love for it. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but that place is where my dreams came true. Destiny makes it sound too weird. But what I’m doing now is all I ever wanted to do.’
Luisa Omielan: Am I Right Ladies?!, Assembly George Square Theatre, George Square, 0131 623 3030, 13–15 Aug, 8.45pm, £16.50.